Gene Logsdon: Too Much Food?



We talked a couple of weeks ago about how civilizations collapse when agriculture can’t produce enough food to keep up with population growth. There might be another way that collapse could occur even with population decline. This is just mind-stretching now— don’t take me too seriously.

A very interesting news report from the BBC recently pointed out that obesity could soon be the leading cause of death, directly or indirectly, if it is not already. Obesity is becoming a problem even in third world countries. I wonder if, at the present trend, the average weight of humans a century from now might be twice or three times what it is today. Simple mathematics suggests that would mean a need for twice as much food even if population did not increase by even one person. Since medicine will surely find ways to keep these budding behemoths alive longer, the need for more food even without more people will become critical. And remember this is not just about obesity but increase in the size of physically fit people. If you doubt that, look at our basketball players. Our giant agribusiness companies know what they are doing by trying to monopolize the whole food business from dirt to dinner table. Giant stomachs need giant food corporations.

Food dominates all our social functions. You can’t go anywhere without running into tables and counters and shelves and tailgates overflowing with food. I swear that half the printed material being published today is about food in one form or another. Every crossroads has three restaurants and a farmers’ market instead of all those gas stations of former years. The farmers’ markets increasingly sell meat and baked goods as well as fruits and vegetables and continue to operate all year, indoors through the winter. Every street of every big city swarms with food carts. On weekends, every town and village has a festival which essentially means a few blocks of the main drag decked out in food dispensaries, mostly selling stuff you tell your doctor you don’t eat. Many of these festivals are even named after food: strawberry festival, peach festival, popcorn festival (yes, in Marion, Ohio), pumpkin festival, you name it. Every weekday night, there are any number of spaghetti suppers, fish fries and ice cream socials that you pretend to attend to support local churches, libraries, hospitals, museums, whatever, but where you actually go to support your addiction to food. I once did an impromptu survey of county fair goers, asking one question. “Why do you keep on attending the fair every year?” (After eighty years of seeing the same things at our fair, I think they are boring.)  The answer, overwhelmingly, was: “I know it’s not good for me, but I love the food.” There are surely more eateries now in every town in America than there are churches, schools, banks, and hardware stores combined. I ask restaurant chefs I know why they pile my plate so full of French fries and serve sandwiches with such huge slabs of bread. Answer: “You learn if you don’t serve large portions, you’ll start losing customers.” When I ask patrons of fast food restaurants how they rate the purveyors, they always say by the size of the servings— the bigger the better. Even religion is about food, at least bread and wine. At millions of Christian and Catholic churches, the pivotal moment of the communion service is celebrated with the words of the biblical Last Supper: “This is my body; take ye and eat. This is my blood, take ye and drink.”

A hundred years from now, giants will walk the earth or perhaps ride the earth because they will be too heavy to move by physical muscle. Population will be lower than it is now but these huge humans will still face extinction from the same scarcities that overpopulation would cause. Plus many of them might be too big to procreate.